The music video for singer-songwriter Charlene Kaye’s song “Skin and Bones” opens with an extended tracking shot as the camera follows a long piece of blue yarn. The camera then pans over a brightly colored cardboard desert and mountain backdrops. The video, with stagehands holding construction paper props in the background as the band plays paper instruments in the foreground, has the same playful sensibility that might be found in a pop-up book by Michel Gondry, director of “The Science of Sleep.”
Paper Frame Productions, the production company behind this video, is now tasked with figuring out how to surpass this star video on its next effort. It is this fact that brings the three-person company to Amer’s Mediterranean Deli on State St. on a Monday night, where they’re meeting with Charlene Kaye to plan the upcoming video for “Magnolia Wine,” the follow-up to “Skin and Bones.”
At a tiny table near the deli’s entrance, Kaye and the production team, composed of LSA sophomore Liann Kaye (Charlene Kaye’s sister), LSA sophomore Thom Arnold and his brother, freelance videographer Mark Arnold, start to block out the video. The four of them pour though a notebook filled with scribbled storyboards as they debate potential shots and ideas. Over a cup of tea and a MacBook Pro displaying the song’s lyrics, Charlene Kaye admits that, in planning the new video, trying to avoid treading over familiar creative territory is a challenge.
“I think for this video, it’s always hard to try and make the sophomore effort, because you want to live up to the last project,” Charlene said. “You want to affect people in the same way, but you also don’t want to get boxed in stylistically.”
Considering that Paper Frame Productions has only officially existed since January, it’s pretty impressive that the group is producing a second music video, especially considering the group’s modest roots.
The group’s story begins in January 2008, when Charlene needed someone to film a concert she was playing at Canterbury House. Thom Arnold, a friend of Liann’s, filmed the show on a handheld camera, switching between close-ups and long shots, catching Charlene’s attention.
“Anybody can take a handheld video camera and hold it steady and film any band, but the shots that I’ve seen from Thom and Mark, they are so artful (and) so creative,” Charlene said. “Just the energy and the time and the attention that they put towards getting the perfect shot is really impressive and it makes the work much more lasting and beautiful.”
From here, things slowed down, but later in the semester, Liann and Thom started sketching out the basic ideas for what would eventually become the video for “Skin and Bones.” The use of paper props, the video’s most visually distinctive element, and the focus on the relationship at the center of the song were planned out, but nothing tangible arose from the meeting until later.
Over the summer, the video was effectively spurred into production after Liann attended a seminar at the University of Southern California. Tasked with producing a music video in two days, she made an early incarnation of the “Skin and Bones” video, building all the cardboard props and sets herself while having an actress lip-sync the song.
After watching Liann’s video, Charlene asked the group to remake the video to coincide with her album release in the fall. In October, the group shot a version of “Skin and Bones” with Charlene in 10 hours at the Duderstadt Center Video Studio. Mark, through Thom, joined them at that point, helping out during the production. The process behind making the “Skin and Bones” video gave the group its first chance to work together on a different type of project. It was a prospect that Liann Kaye found appealing.
“Making a music video allows you to be creative with sort of a plot set out for you and also actors, if you will, that are really willing to do what you ask them to,” Liann said.
School of Music, Theatre & Dance senior and singer-songwriter Darren Criss, a collaborator of Charlene Kaye’s, sang with Kaye in the video and also enjoyed the working dynamic the team had on set.
“When you’re doing these kind of things, whether it be putting on a play or shooting a video in a student environment where no one’s really getting paid, it’s all just for the sake of fun and creating something,” Criss said.
The video was eventually screened through M-agination Films, a student-run film group, but Thom, Mark and Liann were still working independently. The decision to actually form Paper Frame Productions and consolidate the group’s work under a single banner was less motivated by profit and more by a desire to develop a distinct identity and connect with other people in the creative community. And as Mark notes, “You have to have a name to do that.”
For Paper Frame Productions, the decision already looks to be paying off. Since the “Skin and Bones” video, the group has done commercials and video work for MUSKET, the student-run musical theater group, and has upcoming video shoots with local electro-pop group My Dear Disco and singer-songwriter Danny Freeman.
After releasing the first videos online this January with the official Paper Frame Productions name attached, the group received offers from several bands to film their live shows. Even the work with MUSKET came about thanks to the “Skin and Bones” shoot, as one of the stagehands for the video, MT&D sophomore Josh Beurer, worked for MUSKET and asked if they could collaborate.
To all three members, the interconnected nature of the Ann Arbor arts community has been beneficial. The group has called on a network of friends and contacts — ranging from writers, dancers, actors and bands — to help out with Paper Frame projects. In turn, Paper Frame Productions is more than willing to do the same for their contacts.
“We wouldn’t have anything to shoot if there wasn’t a music scene in Ann Arbor,” Thom said.
“It helps that it’s a really good, strong music scene and it gives us an opportunity to actually work with good artists and make a product that’s actually decent and something people would want to watch even if they aren’t familiar with the artist,” Thom continued. “It also helps us to actually want to put out a high quality product ourselves.”
As the night ends, the team behind Paper Frame Productions leaves the deli with an especially busy agenda ahead of them. The “Magnolia Wine” video is shooting this weekend, and two days from now, Paper Frame will be filming a live show at the Blind Pig. Nevertheless, the ambition and vision that fueled Paper Frame Production’s growth in these past two months is still plentiful.
“People — creative people especially — want to be a part of something,” Mark said. “So the production company isn’t so much a company in that we’re trying to make money or be a business, at least not at this stage, but so we can just organize projects and have an outlet for creativity for us and for our friends.”